The Only Ones: Drugs, Keef, car crashes and an odd Bon Scott connection
13 Things We Learned From The Only Ones book
If ever there was a band ill-suited to an internet listicle it's The Only Ones. If The Only Ones had written this list they’d have written two amazing entries before punching your girlfriend in the face and falling backwards on the settee in an opiated haze while the best guitar solo you've ever heard played in the background.
That’s the story of The Only Ones: amazing feats of brilliance ruined by an anti-social, self-destructive streak that makes Mötley Crüe look like a bunch of guys who just liked a pint.
Formed in 1976 and coinciding with the dawn of punk, The Only Ones’ only real connection to that musical movement was time, place and a genuine nihilism. Singer Peter Perrett was marinated in drug culture. A user and a dealer, he was a genuine outsider, barricading his house to keep out the police and in constant trouble with the law. His caustic world view was balanced by a vocal delivery that is almost twee and child-like and matched with a veteran rhythm section and the elegant, effervescent guitar playing of John Perry.
Their story is captured in The One & Only: Peter Perrett, Homme Fatale by Nina Antonia, first published in 1996 and now updated and reissued.
Here’s what we learned from it...
Peter Perrett lost his virginity on the night of the moon landing: 20 July 1969. If you’re expecting us to make some kind of Another Girl, Another Planet joke out of that, prepare to be disappointed. He’s still with that same girl – Xenoulla ‘Zena’ Kakoulli, his wife and manager – and the moon isn’t a planet, you idiot, it’s a satellite.
Which shouldn’t give you the idea that Perrett and Zena have lived a sweet and romantic life of domestic bliss. Perrett strayed regularly, moving his lover Lucinda in with him and Zena, and in the book describes a threesome he had with Lucinda and another girl in plain terms (although, weirdly, in the third person): “Lucinda’s lips were around his penis and Jill’s tongue was exploring his anus. She was a friend of Lucinda’s and a birthday present to him.” Aw, how sweet.
There’s an interesting Bon Scott connection. The night Bon Scott died, his drinking partner was one Alistair Kinnear. Kinnear had gotten himself and Scott into a club night at the Music Machine in Camden (now Koko). Bon Scott later died in Kinnear’s car and Kinnear fled the country, never fully giving his side of the story. In fact, Bon Scott biographer Clinton Walker concluded in 2007 that the name was most likely an alias and that no-one called ‘Alistair Kinnear’ had ever existed. Not only did he exist, he was a former lighting guy at the Roundhouse and, in 1972, the original guitarist in Peter Perrett’s band England’s Glory. Fellow band member John Newey remembers: “He was a bit of an acid casualty and pretty spaced out most of the time.” The night of Bon’s death, the person who got them both on the guest list at the Music Machine was… Zena.
Guitarist John Perry used to live with... a pre-fame Douglas ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ Adams.
Drugs are a recurring theme. They say ‘try everything once’. Peter Perrett tried it all – and discovered that he liked it all. “Up until 1975, it was basically just smoke and hash. I’d had odd bits of coke but it hardly did anything, it was too weak. The first time I tried it properly was when I got involved with these importers. It was 100% clean when it came into this country. I started doing a lot more coke. When you do a lot of coke, you can drink much more, so I used to drink a lot more alcohol as well. Smack was something I took once a month, and then maybe once a weekend.”
“These importers”? Oh those were just some Italian guys he knew who started bringing kilos of coke back from Bolivia. “I got into it and we became equal partners… We just had one wholesaler who we sold it to for £400 an ounce. The profit margin was approximately 700%. We were selling it for £14 a gram.”
Drummer Mike Kellie had played in Spooky Tooth, Peter Frampton’s Camel and done session work for Jerry Lee Lewis and Traffic.
Keith Richards attempted to produce them. On his first visit to rehearsals, with his 8 year old son Marlon, Keef obviously felt uncomfortable. According to Perry, he dealt with it “like shy teenage girls do, he emptied his bag on the floor and spent an hour going through it to avoid making any kind of eye contact. Once what he had was rearranged to his satisfaction, he split.” Their second meeting ended with Perrett and Richards trying to out-snort each other. Perry: “There was lots of coke being chopped out, and Peter was in competitive mode… Every line that Keith put out, Peter would say, ‘Zena, put some more out!’ It was like a poker game where Peter was going to match whatever Keith was doing, and raise him.” The collaboration came to an end when Richards was busted in Toronto for trafficking.
Supporting the Stranglers, bassist JJ Burnell came into their dressing room and spotted a guitar tuner. Remembers Perry: “His response was, ‘You fairies or sumfink, wot you need a tuner for?’” “We weren’t a very pally band,” says Perry.
Peter Perrett and fellow narco-nnoisseur Johnny Thunders were friends and Thunders even considered joining the Only Ones. Nick Kent: “Johnny loved Peter and saw him as a superior songwriter. At one point he even wanted to join The Only Ones as guitarist. Can you imagine?”
Another Girl, Another Planet failed to chart in the UK. The band never really recovered. “We were, and still are in some ways, shocked that Another Girl, Another Planet wasn't number one. I think it took the edge off the band. It affected Peter deeper than he ever said.”
Perrett either almost killed or saved the life of Television’s Richard Lloyd, depending on how you look at it. Perrett: “I gave him a line about an inch long of smack. I know he’d been drinking. I think he’d taken some downers as well but even so, it was still a minute amount… Within 30 seconds his mouth had turned blue.” Unable to move him, and with Zena in bed with a threatened miscarriage, Perrett called Kellie who helped carry Lloyd to the car. “I drove at a 100 miles an hour to Lewisham hospital. Nellie jumped out, got the trolley people and told them what had happened. As Richard was being wheeled into hospital they had to start heart massage. He definitely owes his life to me because if we’d have waited for an ambulance it would have been too late.”
It wasn't the only time he almost killed someone. On tour in America, Perrett got into an altercation in a car park. A parking attendant didn’t like how he’d parked, so gave the skinny Limey a push and demanded he move his vehicle. Perrett responded by getting back in his car and reversing right into him: “To begin with, he thought I was just going to to drive fast and stop at the last moment, but I didn’t… He flew back over the dustbins in a kind of backwards somersault. The last thing I remember was his feet going up in the air.” It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. (To be fair, the camel had been buckling for sometime: on the same tour, John Perry had met a woman but still flew his wife AND his mistress out “with lots of dope”. Caught dealing in San Francisco, his wife Suze was arrested.)
Perrett, says bassist Alan Mair, “was just a spoilt little kid, out of control with no one to stop him. The Only Ones had the best of everything except management and self-discipline. We started off at 150mph and ground to a halt. As far Peter, he just got too stoned and nobody slapped him.”
The One And Only: Peter Perrett, Homme Fatale by Nina Antonia is out now, published by Thin Man Press.